We have been here before

29th March 1996 at 00:00
Andy Schofield seeks real people and places in textbooks for secondary courses

Longman Geography Choice, By Vincent Bunce, Pupil's Book Pounds 7.25, Teacher's Book Pounds 39.99. Geographical Case Studies, The United Kingdom, By Chris Burnett, Keith Flinders and Barnaby Lenon, Hodder Stoughton Pounds 7.50. Key Geography, Places, By David Waugh and Tony Bushell, Stanley Thorne, Pupil's Book Pounds 7.25, Teacher's Guide Pounds 41.50, Age range 11- 14

The new national curriculum has the potential to inspire more thoughtful key stage 3 publications than we have been used to. There should be less emphasis on coverage, and more on considered, in-depth treatment of topics. There is also scope for more imaginative work from pupils. Schemes of work, including the use of textbooks, can take account of progression, enquiry and assessment.

Choice is the foundation book of a new series, planned after the Dearing review, which aims to provide "an interesting new approach". There are one or two original ideas for tasks, but there is much in this book that is not especially interesting or new.

Imaginary places and people, such as the flooding case study, have been widely used. There are many line drawings, some of dubious quality, such as the inanely grinning shopper and checkout assistant in the section on work. Cartoons are another high risk strategy and not always popular with pupils.

The book also resorts to the derelict Gloomsbury Park, run by Gloomsbury Council and an imaginary river called Dabble. So opportunities to use real places and real people's experiences are lost.

Choice follows the same structure as other books in the series, with introductory stimulus material, often a large photograph, followed by the usual activities and finally by much more open-ended work. The Teacher's Book has end-of-unit tests and pupil review sheets. There are also three free A3 laminated work cards given away with each copy of the pupils' book which include a 1:50,000 map extract of south Devon, an aerial photograph of London Docklands and a satellite image of the UK.

Throughout the series, more difficult activities are printed in blue. There are ideas in the text for group activities, such as a class discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of using fossil fuels. Tasks like these or the word search on place names might be more profitably located in the Teacher's Book.

The United Kingdom offers a series of case studies aimed at covering the key stage 3 themes. Information and source material is followed by questions. Many of the cases are unique to this volume, although the publishers' claim that "GCSE requirements are also met" is perhaps an exaggeration. Nevertheless, the book would certainly have a role to play in providing specific examples to illustrate work at GCSE.

The book's strengths are the originality and topicality of some of the case studies, for example those on the Pakistani community in the West Midlands, and farming. Because 34 case studies are covered in only 80 pages, some potentially interesting topics, such as London's cardboard city, are explored only superficially.

The geographical spread of the examples is also rather limited: London, the Mersey, Lancashire and the West Midlands make up about half the coverage. Despite the map at the front of the book indicating that Exeter is featured, the whole of south-west England does not contribute even one case study.

Places is a companion volume to the successful Key Geography series. After a general introduction to development there are chapters on Brazil, Kenya, Italy and Japan, the last three of which complement similar sections in the main Key series.

I suspect that the key stage 3 geography curriculum in some schools has become Key Geography. Teachers who use it know what to expect: double-page spreads, information, comprehension exercises, filling in copied diagrams and drawing the odd bar chart. Places provides good coverage, but it also raises questions about the usefulness of the work pupils are required to do. I also have serious reservations about the values conveyed by the series, particularly in its treatment of development issues.

"Development means growth", the book claims. Growth here is synonymous with economic growth and the reason why countries are ". . . at different stages of development." The account of development is something of a caricature. According to this book, it can be relatively easily measured and countries can be classified by rank in an unproblematic manner. The concept of sustainable development, which is now prescribed in the new geography national curriculum, is mentioned but never seriously discussed.

The legacy of the old BBC Brazil series still survives some 20 years on, with contrasts between rich and poor in Sao Paulo in both Places and Choice.

The accompanying Teacher's Resource Guide to Places has some useful features. There are numerous activity and assessment sheets, as well as guidance on using the textbook in a more imaginative way.

It's worth remembering that before the national curriculum, it was very unusual for departments to rely on a single textbook series. A textbook cannot replace a scheme of work and the Dearing revision should help us to rediscover the art of curriculum development. On this basis, Longman Geography's Choice has more to offer than Key Geography's Places.

Andy Schofield is deputy head of Varndean comprehensive school, Brighton

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